Sunday, November 15, 2009

i haz a mad.

Just 3 months into my graduate school career, I'm already tired of admiring the problem.

What is cognition? How do we measure learning? What can sociocultural theorists learn from cognitivists, and vice versa? What role should assessment play in supporting learning? Which methodologies are most useful for which purposes?
I'm not saying I'm not interested in these and similar types of questions. I love my classes; I love my classmates; I love my professors and I love the ideas I'm immersed in.

"you don't just give up / you don't just let things happen / you make a stand / you say no // you have the guts to do what's right when everyone else just runs away and"

Recently, in a conversation about Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Joshua Danish talked about the struggles of implementing critical literacy programs in underserved areas. The challenge, he said, was that a program that can arm young people with righteous anger about their living conditions can also fail to prepare those learners for the fallout of that anger: how go to on living in a society where the odds are stacked so heavily in favor of some at the expense of others. How do we, he wondered, equip kids with the tools to manage their growing awareness of the power structures that hem them in?

I've been wondering the same thing about angry young graduate students like me. The more I learn, the madder I get; and the madder I get, the harder I look for something to fucking do.

But there's nothing to do. It feels like there's nothing to do.

The problem is lovely from all angles. But my feet are falling asleep from all this sitting. I'm ready to stand up. I'm ready to start moving.


Rafi said...

Definitely empathize here, but it's also interesting to look at what role the mad plays, how it manifests, when it's useful and when it's not. I find that doing direct work on the ground can sometimes ameliorate my madz, ie "At least I'm doing something", and sometimes aggravate my madz when I encounter how incredibly f-ed up the systems are and how much work there is to be done to change things for the better. In the former case, the edge is that one can get comfortable and lose a critical eye. In the latter, one can become paralyzed and hopeless, not to mention start acting from a place of anger as opposed to one of compassion (a guaranteed fail in the long run, imho).

In engaging in studies, one is often taking a long view in terms of the impact that she hopes to achieve. This may be a matter of being better informed when one does take action, or may be a matter of having more credibility so that one can take the kinds of action that have greater effects. Ideally, I think it's a healthy combination of the two without over-valuing either.

There's a great quote from the Talmud about this issue, incidentally:
The rabbis debated, "Which is greater — Study or Action?" Akiba said, and the sages agreed: "Study — if it leads to Action." (Talmud Bavli /Kiddushin 40b.)

Keeping the long view when in the thick of it though can be hard, and doubt definitely has a way of creeping in. In my experience, doubt only has validity when one has lost their way in terms of the intention to affect positive change (eg - becoming wrapped up in one's own success at the expense of one's more idealistic goals, becoming fascinated with the questions for fascination's sake, becoming too practically minded/cynical to the point that one is prevented from innovating for the sake of change). You don't sound like someone that's lost their way, but maybe you might want to add a little balance into the mix. I know this is a hard thing to do as a grad student, but perhaps there are local community action groups that could use a hand. I've found that's always been something helpful for me.

The biggest danger, though, is thinking that you're not currently doing something or having an effect. Whether it's building steam/capital/etc for something in the future, or making people that read this blog think about these issues, something is always being stirred when you engage in the world from the right place.

Don't doubt yourself Jenna, unless there's real merit to that doubt. And it doesn't look like there is from where I'm standing.

Julie said...

Love this post, because I totally hit this wall last Spring Semester, in a different context. Or maybe it's a different wall in the same context, but either way it feels like a wall and it has to do with leaping from "real world teaching with kids who come from "oppressed" backgrounds" (I hate the word oppressed) into "graduate school at IU." So, yes, it is true that I think Eubonics is a cool form of English and I tried to use it in the classroom, but found that making it in the reality in the classroom was difficult. THe same with trying to use gang literacy practices, the same with trying to get parents involved, etc, etc, etc. So all I've gotten in grad school so far is, "Yes- your hunches about good teaching were right and this is why and why and why in really cool academic language." But I've gotten very little "And this is how and why it can realistically be put into practice." I left teaching for grad school burned out and disappointed in my inability to change these kids' lives, and I came to grad school looking for easy answers. It turns out, there aren't any.


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